Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

Quick Sand

July 25, 2018

Feng shui update: we mere mortals are currently experiencing the vagaries of fortune that characterize the Sheep Month during the Year of the Dog (YoDog).  Traditionally, the Dog and Sheep are bitter foes –not merely because the former preys upon the latter unless domesticated as a guardian, but also because the two creatures are located 90 degrees apart on the circumference of the Chinese zodiac.  This orthogonal angle may be useful for earth-bound architects and builders obsessed with stasis, but it’s in fundamental conflict with the necessarily constant dynamics at work and play in the cosmos above.  Thus, animals separated by an arc of 90° in the celestial firmament are fated to have a relationship fraught with clash and confrontation.

In this particular year, the Sheep-Dog conflict is intensified and made manifest by the specific configuration of Celestial Stem and Earthly Branch during the Sheep Month (July).  Recall that YoDog is a double Yang Earth year: strong Earth energy is heaped up upon itself into a mighty mountain.  All well and good for the Dog, except that the Sheep is a yin (weak) earth animal –and the Celestial Stem for the Sheep Month this year is   [ , meaning ‘unravel threads’ ] a yin earth phase in the celestial cycle.  So in July 2018, virtually at the peak of the solar year, we have a double yin earth month appearing on the scene in cosmic contradiction and refutation of the Dog’s mighty Yang Earth mountain. This is the beginning of the Dog’s inexorable decline, but the interactions of strong and weak earth energies bring misfortune to the Sheep as well.

F’r Instance


A hydroelectric dam under construction at the Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy power project has collapsed, killing at least 19 people as it swept away dozens of homes in flash flooding.  More than 3,000 people need to be rescued in a remote part of southern Laos, where at least seven villages were submerged in muddy water on Monday.


An enormous landslide on Fagraskógarfjall mountain in Hítardalur in West Iceland [has blocked] a well-known salmon fishing river with mud and rock and almost completely changed the face of the landscape.  The landslide is thought to be the largest that has ever occurred in Iceland.  Local farmer Erla Dögg Ármannsdóttir said that the landslide has formed a dam across the Hítará river.  “The dam is a few dozen meters high —I’m not exactly sure— and several hundred meters long and it’s completely blocking the Hítará, which is a serious problem.”  The blockage has caused a lake to begin forming above the debris.  “The water level is rising with every hour.”


At least 27 people are feared dead following a landslide at a jade mine in northern Myanmar, police said Wednesday, as heavy rains hampered the search for survivors. Dozens of people have been killed by landslides this year in the Hpakant region of Kachin state, with 15 deaths and 45 others injured by a mine cave-in just a week earlier.


Dozens of people have been killed and two million forced to flee their homes after record rains pounded southwest Japan, triggering widespread flooding and deadly landslides.  At least 75 people are dead and 40 have been reported missing or are unaccounted for, according to Japan’s Fire and Disaster Management Agency.


The project manager of Ethiopia’s 6,000 megawatt Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam was found dead in his Toyota Landcruiser in the capital Addis Ababa on Thursday. Simegnew Bekele was the public face of the dam being built near the country’s western border with Sudan which, when completed, will be Africa’s largest. Two of its 16 turbines are scheduled to start producing electricity in 2018.

Simegnew’s death is the second of a high-profile company official in recent months: in May, gunmen ambushed and killed Deep Kamra, the country manager for Nigeria’s Dangote Cement, alongside two others in the Oromia region outside Addis Ababa.


What’s next?  Well, during the August Monkey Month, we’ll have double Yang Metal to deal with.  Be seeing you.


Where In The World

April 19, 2018

If and when Kim Jong-un actually does sit down for talks with The Great Satan in the merrie, merrie month of May, where-oh-where will those talks take place?  This is the question that has occupied the minds and mouths of media mavens for several past weeks, but their proffered suggestions thus far lack both credibility and imagination.  Here’s what little they’ve been able to muster thus far:

  • Bangkok [Bloomberg]
  • Beijing [AFP]
  • Singapore [Bloomberg/AFP]
  • Ulan Bator [Bloomberg/AFP]
  • Vietnam [AFP]
  • Panmunjom [Reuters/AFP]
  • Pyongyang [AFP]
  • Seoul [AFP]
  • Jeju Island [Hankyoreh]
  • Geneva [Bloomberg/Reuters/AFP]
  • Stockholm [Bloomberg/Reuters/AFP]
  • Oslo [Bloomberg/AFP]
  • Helsinki [Bloomberg/AFP]
  • Prague [Bloomberg]
  • Warsaw [Bloomberg]
  • None of the above.  [Lunghu]

Lunghu is gonna do everybody a favor and name two other places with an actual shot at ending up as host venue.  One might be Kim’s choice, the other would be Melania’s.  Both locations feature beautiful natural landscapes and crisp, clean mountain air.  In May, the stark grandeur of vertiginous granite and limestone slopes will be softly accented by the delicate colors of alpine flowers in full bloom.  Book your airline tickets now to take advantage of the cheap fares. You can thank me later.

Kŭmgangsan Resort Area  [Kangwon Province, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea]

home of nine dragons in Kuryong Falls


Lake Bled  [Julian Alps, Slovenia]

The World Rowing Championships were held at Lake Bled in 1966, 1979, 1989, and 2011.  So it’s Lunghu’s sentimental choice.


However, it’s always possible that outsize egos and diplomatic protocol won’t permit a meeting at any site perceived to be either man’s home turf.  Sadly, that probably also rules out Doonbeg [Co. Clare, Eire].  A loovely spot it is, to be sure.  Instead, let’s consider a darkhorse candidate:

Sapporo  [Hokkaido, Japan]

  • Sapporo was host city for the 11th Winter Olympics (in 1972), the first ever held in Asia.  This history provides a neat cultural/thematic link to the recent role of the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics in jumpstarting inter-Korean dialog. Furthermore, the city is considering a bid for the 2026 or 2030 Winter Olympics.
  • Sapporo might sometimes be a little chilly in May, but it’s the sunniest month of the year, and it has the topography and infrastructure to handle a sudden influx of dignitaries, security personnel and media masses.  Better still, the island of Hokkaido is replete with beautiful landscapes, mountain vistas, flora and fauna: truly a fairy-tale wonderland for a nature-lover like Kim Jong-un.  There are golf courses too.
  • Shinzo Abe is the odd man out in YoDg’s improbable Kim-Moon-Trump schmooze-fest, and his newly-marginal position in the geopolitics of northeast Asia is compounded by domestic corruption scandals that have undermined his party base at home.  For Trump, this weakness is a vulnerability that can (and will) be exploited for economic gain.  In exchange, he can offer Abe the illusory prestige of summit host and the appearance of ‘inclusion’ at the negotiation table.  Kim might be willing to go along with the program because he understands that this would actually be a humiliating role for Abe and running-dog imperialist lackey Japan.
  • Recent fire-over-earth volcanic eruptions are in southern Japan.

But really, how likely are any of Lunghu’s suggestions to be chosen as a summit site?  It all depends on whether desperate men will continue to accept his sage counsel as the best path to a satisfactory outcome for all concerned.


Burning Questions

February 6, 2016

Wouldn’t you say that Sakurajima is just about as far to the west-southwest as it’s possible to travel in the Home Islands of Japan?  It sure looks that way to me.


So from a feng-shui perspective, it appears that Tai Sui has stirred in his celestial throne just as the Year of the Monkey is about to “officially” commence.  Should we interpret this as an indication that Shinzo Abe, the Diet and the Bank of Japan are pursuing policies that are in conflict with the mandate of heaven?  Probably just a coincidence…


Just to be safe, though, Koreans should probably steer clear of Mokpo for the next few weeks.  Park Geun-hye and Kim Jong-un are both playing with Fire these days.


WWII All Over … Again

July 3, 2015

The fix is in: for the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII those canny Swiss ‘neutrals’ at FIFA have orchestrated a distaff rematch of Axis-vs-Allies in the semis and final of the Women’s World Cup.  United States v. Japan for world domination.  England v. Germany for consolation prize.  Was it in the script all along?


The referees played their usual solid supporting roles, with a penalty kick here and a penalty kick there … together with a few strategic non-calls along the way. We can probably expect more of the same in the final.  FIFA officials seeking to avoid extradition to the U.S. Department of Justice may tip the scales toward a Hollywood ending for the neon yellow Nike hose of the good ol’ USA.  Let’s just wait and see.

Meanwhile, in the Andean fringes of southern Mercosur, the beautiful game will be played at its pinnacle by slightly less beautiful players than in Vancouver.  Chile and Argentina will be ignoring their mutual history as post-war havens for the losing team, and will instead emphasize themes close to the heart of a certain former Porteño — Jorge Mario Bergoglio:

“Chile and Argentina are brother countries, we have to show mutual respect,” said Argentine defender Javier Mascherano.  “Sport is about trying to be healthy and having fun, not a war.  If we stoop to aggression and violence, we lose that message of respect.

His Chileno counterpart Jose Rojas agreed: “Argentina is strong but nothing is impossible.  We have hunger and desire to achieve something important for our country.  We are playing at home, with our people behind us, and we have something to say.  You have to throw all the meat on the grill,” Rojas said.


Meat on the grill?   Sounds like an appeal to San Lorenzo!  On Saturday we’ll see who’s really running the barbeque in Sant’Iago.  I’m thinking it’s gonna be Lionel Messi.


The Ugliest Duckling

March 27, 2015

Recently I had the good fortune to attend a book talk by Dutch sociologist Abram De Swaan (born January 8, 1942). The topic was one that many people would find disquieting, perhaps distasteful, or even repellent: the “modern” phenomenon of mass murder.  But American mass media wouldn’t be very interested in his message, because Mynheer De Swaan isn’t studying mere penny ante schoolhouse slaughter like Sandy Hook or Columbine.  Instead, his attention is focused on organized, large-scale atrocities perpetrated by armed political movements or government regimes, mostly in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.  Rwanda. Cambodia. Bosnia. The Final Solution. The Cultural Revolution. The Soviet Purges. And so on.  These episodes have generally occurred in the context of widespread social upheaval and generally at the instigation of a regime or state.


De Swaan recommends approaching the mass murder phenomenon while bearing in mind (at least) four levels of social analysis:

  • long-term, perhaps dormant, trends in social transformation occurring at the time
  • political movements and state policies
  • interpersonal interactions in everyday social life
  • psychological/sociological patterns of individual interior “life-of-the-mind”

From this perspective, the groundwork for future atrocity is laid when latent social tensions are redefined by political actors to

  • accentuate social differences and divisions,
  • demarcate boundaries of “compartmentalized” social categories,
  • enact physical/spatial separation of these newly defined social fragments,
  • and accelerate psychological processes of self-identification, projection, internalization, fervent “othering” (and so on) within increasing numbers of the citizenry.

Once these ideological/political projects have achieved an as-yet-undefined level of cultural ubiquity within society, mass murder and atrocity become not only possible, but perhaps likely.

Just to keep the scorecard tidy, De Swaan has proposed four principal categories of mass murder:

  • the victor’s frenzy [ Sri Lanka, Japanese Imperial Army after the conquest of Nanking, etc. ]
  • regime by terror [ Soviet Purges, Cultural Revolution, Khmer Rouge, Hussein Iraq, Assad Syria ]
  • the loser’s triumph [ 3rd Reich after 1942 ]
  • pogrom [ Armenia, 1948 India, Rwanda, Bosnia ]

He’s willing to consider two other possible candidates for mass murder:

  • intentional famine [ is he thinking of Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China and Kim’s North Korea? ]
  • air war: “strategic” bombing campaigns [ is he thinking of Germany unto Britain, USA/UK unto Germany/Japan, USA unto Iraq, Israel unto Lebanon and Gaza? ]


However, even with such a neat academic typology, mass murder is a messy business.  When confronted with gory horror of truly massive casualty figures, a common human reaction often seems to be one of incomprehension: “How could people do such a thing to their fellows?”  This question is exactly the starting point for the many researchers who have previously examined cases of attempted genocide, mass extermination, and wholesale slaughter.  De Swaan has reviewed the existing academic literature (such as it is) and found it lacking.

The initial wave of research in the 1950’s (understandably) concentrated on the notorious German case (then quite recent) and reached the comforting but none-too-rigorous conclusion that these “evil deeds” were perpetrated by evil men, or at the very least by men in the tenacious grip of “evil”.  Such men must be monsters, and as monsters must be eradicated.  Thus, the Nuremberg trials.  But De Swaan notes that this analysis relies heavily on the concept of “evil” without adequately exploring the full dimensions of what “evil” is understood to be.  Despite the fact that the term “evil” –in the European cultural context– is heavily freighted with a nebulous range of religious and moral meanings, early writers on the topic of mass murder generally limited themselves to defining “evil” as encompassing the perpetrators’ use of intensely cruel and painful methods of torture and killing on a large scale. This approach left the theological-moral/psychological dimensions of mass murder largely unexplored, and thus failed to adequately explain how nominally Christian people (in the German case) were able to engage in these types of behavior.

Soon enough, researchers came to understand that available evidence contradicted the sweeping claims of the “evil monster” thesis: many of the minor cogs in the vast killing machines were demonstrably less than monstrous, and in fact greatly resembled –and behaved like– the average Johan or Jurgen on the street corner.  They were still guilty, but they weren’t monsters. But what, then?

A decade or so later, thanks to the psychology research of Stanley Milgram and others, a slightly more nuanced view emerged: the claim that “ordinary men do extraordinary things in extraordinary circumstances.”  Under social pressure, under conditions of psychological stress, two-thirds of otherwise peaceable, law-abiding citizens may participate in heinously cruel activities.  Guantanamo. Abu Ghraib.  According to this thesis, you or I could well be given a gentle push down the slippery slope … to become torturers and killers.  Ya nevah know…

As a social scientist, De Swaan is still skeptical:  what about all those people –the thirty-three percent– who wouldn’t go along with Milgram’s experimental program of participating in torture unto death?  How are they different from those who join the parade?  For De Swaan, this is still the preeminent open question.  But empirical data about non-participation doesn’t exist, so it’s necessary to look at the question from the opposite point of view.  Until better evidence becomes available, De Swaan has proposed what he calls a tentative conjecture about the types of people who do participate, drawn from psychological studies of former low-level German functionaries conducted after WWII. What type of person allows himself to become involved in situations where mass murder occurs?  According to De Swaan, many of these men exhibited a set of characteristics that may be related to their participation in mass murder. They were:

  • obedient
  • loyal
  • highly devoted to their families
  • low in their sense of personal agency
  • low in empathy

The gloss above, the earth below.

Reflecting on the personal traits summarized by De Swaan, I was first of all struck by the observation that low agency and obedience are not merely present in these men by simple coincidence –they’re mutually reinforcing states of mind.  If you have a low sense of personal agency, you may well be more inclined to follow the lead of someone else.  But secondly, I was intrigued by De Swaan’s portrayal of these vanquished German warriors as devoted family men.  On the one hand it seems entirely plausible that men of a defeated nation would retreat from public engagement into refuge in intimate family life, but there’s also a much more significant dimension of this mundane observation … hiding in plain sight.  Obedience, deference, loyalty, surrender of personal agency and emphasis on the nuclear family are –in Europe and beyond–  all features of patriarchal culture and ideology.  Time for a causal loop diagram.


So then, could it be that men more deeply invested in patriarchy –with identities and self-perceptions strongly centered on their roles as fathers and patriarchs– are somehow more likely to become participants in organized mass murder when the occasion arises?  More likely to be obedient? More likely to defer? More likely to outsource personal agency to their “superior” in the social hierarchy?

In this context, perhaps it is intensely relevant that patriarchy’s stratified edifice rests on a simple, secret, almost implicit bargain: in exchange for obedient deference to the authority of the state, employer and social patron, patriarchy promises the lowly man a virtually unlimited dominion over his wife and children.  In return for the personal agency he surrenders in the workplace and polis, the petty patriarch is thus enfeoffed to be master of all he surveys within the walls of his domicile.  Were he alive today, renowned patriarch John Dalberg-Acton would undoubtedly take this occasion to remind us that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Even at the nanoscale of an otherwise insignificant individual household within a much vaster society.

Should we then consider the possibility that the system and culture of patriarchy itself inexorably contains the seeds of mass murder?  Or should we instead, based on these indications, infer the persistent presence of repeatedly replicated social groups –networks of like-minded men– which use the techniques and mechanisms of patriarchy to maintain a privileged status within society and thereby command a correspondingly disproportionate share of social resources?  Perhaps these are men who are willing to deploy patriarchy’s fundamental tools of coercion and domination to their logical limit: the extinction of human life itself.

Reflect deeply upon this.  It needn’t be a binary choice.


Straight From the Horse’s Mouth

February 26, 2013

Serving Ikea’s “reindeer” meatballs used to be part of Lunghu’s Christmas Eve family tradition.  But this past year, after the extended electricity outage that followed Hurricane Sandy, Lunghu’s stockpile of frozen meatballs was thawed, spoiled and inedible.  That particular family “tradition” was retired.  And just in time!  We’d often joked about the content of Ikea’s meatballs, because reindeer herds in Scandinavia probably aren’t large enough to support the booming Ikea market, but nobody wanted to think too deeply about the actual ingredients.

Ikea was caught flatfooted when it was dragged into Europe’s ongoing horsemeat scandal on Monday.
“It came as a surprise to us,” Ikea spokeswoman Anna Pilkrona-Godden said following reports that food inspectors had found traces of horsemeat in frozen meatballs destined for sale in an Ikea store in the Czech Republic. “”We acted quickly to stop meatball sales because we wanted to assuage any customer concerns.  We are treating the matter with the utmost seriousness.”



Treating matters with the utmost seriousness is a peculiarly Scandinavian trait that has been selected out of Lunghu’s genetic heritage by more dominant Hibernian chromosomes.  (But don’t despair: he’s still very fond of boats, blondes, gold, pillaging and bloody ax-work.)

So, what does one do after selling off all the marketable cuts of meat (see above) from last week’s broken-down racehorse? Take the remainder to Mali, of course!  Horsehair flywhisks are as popular (and necessary) as ever in Africa, and the people of Bamako have a special use for dried horseheads:

Some of Bamako’s market stands are neatly stacked with piles of dead animals guaranteed to change your life: parakeets to help you find a job, dog skulls to cure headaches, crocodile heads to make you better in bed.  [Traditional healer] Soumaila Kouyate says the most expensive item at his market stall — and the one most in demand at the moment — is a horse’s skull. What does it do?
“You write God’s name on a piece of paper and put it in the horse’s mouth,” he says.  “Then you dip it in water and you get a visa for America or Europe.”


Bamako_charm market

On A (Somewhat) Serious Note:

Last week Lunghu advised that China’s efforts to avoid Year of the Snake Da Sha in its South-Southeast might result in minefields near some of the islands it claims as sovereign territory.  As a (currently) peaceful nation, the PRC chose a nobler path  –but one that hints of other possibilities:

Japan asked China to explain the purpose of buoys which were placed just outside Japanese waters near uninhabited East China Sea islands called Senkaku by Japan and Diaoyu by China.  At a daily press briefing, [PRC] Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, “[To my knowledge], Chinese related departments’ deployment of buoys in the seas under Chinese administration are aimed at maritime meteorological observations.”

Apparently, no one in East Asia is quite ready to admit the importance of geomantic balance and harmony in the affairs of nations.


Three Kingdoms

April 30, 2011

Korea —in one form or another— has been conducting diplomatic relations with other nations for well over two millennia.   So certain protocols have accumulated over the years centuries that are still present today.   One of the most visible of such practices involves the choice of backdrop behind the now-obligatory photo-op that accompanies the official reception of delegations from abroad.   In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s always a subtle message in the landscape scene that looms over the shoulders of the sober dignitaries who shake hands with Korean ministers, vice ministers, or the President himself.   So that you, too, can enjoy the fun, Lunghu will decode some of the subtext accompanying recent diplomatic encounters in the Republic of Korea.   Remember, people in the foreground are less significant than the folding screens in the background of the photos below.

source: Yonhap

Japanese and Korean environmental ministers meet in Busan.  In Asian culture, cranes (which mate for life) are a symbol of fidelity and longevity.  Furthermore, preservation of breeding grounds for migratory fowl has been  the foundation of the environmental movement in Korea.  This scenic backdrop asserts the intimacy, duration, constancy and pacific nature of bilateral relations with Japan on environmental matters.  This backdrop will not be used during discussions concerning historical precedents that justify(?) possession of Dok-do.

source: Yonhap

source: Yonhap

The presidents of Iraq and Korea meet at Cheong Wa Dae (the president’s official residence).  The respective energy ministers conclude a trade agreement in their presence.   The backdrop you see is almost invariably in evidence when receiving delegations from Africa, South America, and the Middle East.   Although the details may be difficult to make out in these particular shots, the folding-screen landscape depicts the reception of foreign envoys bearing tribute to the Chosun Emperor in times gone by.   In other photographs of this screen (at other receptions), it is possible to discern the figures of these ancient diplomats as they prostrate themselves, kowtowing before the Emperor.   This backdrop signals that the visiting (modern) delegation are considered cultural inferiors to/by their Korean hosts.

source: Yonhap

Korea’s foreign minister meets China’s chief nuclear envoy in the Seoul Foreign Ministry.  The landscape backdrop shows a peaceful woodland scene: in the foreground a rushing highland stream (favorable chi), in the middle distance a hillside covered with bamboo, flowering plum trees and tall pines (the three friends of winter), and in the background a high, sheer, rugged mountain chain that keeps the Chinese out of the Korean Peninsula (and thus preserves peace).  Bamboo = resiliency & integrity.  Plum = purity, perseverance & longevity.  Pine = nobility, longevity & venerability.  Together, the three friends of winter signify resistance to the elements and the ability to withstand hardship.  Get the message, comrade?  Judging by his expression, he does.

If only similar subtlety were present in the diplomatic practices of the US State Department … but American culture has a long way to go before it can match this kind of allusion —another 1800 years or so, at least.  Lunghu ain’t counting on it.